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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE To be published as HC 768-i

House of COMMONS

MINUTES OF EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE

FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

 

 

DEVELOPMENTS IN THE EUROPEAN UNION

 

 

Tuesday 13 December 2005

RT HON JACK STRAW MP, MR TIM BARROW and MR DAVID FROST

Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 90

 

 

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 13 December 2005

Members present

Mike Gapes, in the Chair

Mr John Horam

Mr Eric Illsley

Mr Paul Keetch

Andrew Mackinlay

Sandra Osborne

Mr Ken Purchase

Sir John Stanley

Richard Younger-Ross

________________

Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

 

Examination of Witnesses

 

Witnesses: Rt Hon Jack Straw, a Member of the House, Foreign Secretary of State, Mr Tim Barrow, Deputy Political Director and Assistant Director EU External, and Mr David Frost, Deputy Director EU, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, gave evidence.

Q1 Chairman: Good afternoon everybody. Welcome to the Foreign Secretary and his team. We are pleased to have you here, Jack. We know you are extremely busy this week, as always. We want to obviously focus on the presidency of the European Union and the preparations for the summit and other issues that are going on. Perhaps I could begin by asking you about the EU budget. I know you are in the middle of negotiations, and we appreciate that sometimes you do not want to reveal everything, but, nevertheless, could you tell us at this moment how many other states support our position?

Mr Straw: I am not, with respect, going to offer a view about that, because we are not at a stage where we can make that assessment. This is an iterative process where we put forward proposals, we listen to what colleagues have to say. We are in the process of revising these, so the situation is this. We put forward proposals last week and they were made available to the House at the same time as they were made available to European Member States. We have been listening very carefully to reactions to those proposals. I ran what was delicately called a "conclave" of European foreign ministers to discuss just this last Wednesday, and since then there have been bilateral meetings, as you will be aware, between the Prime Minister and heads of government of almost every one of the other 24 Member States, I have had a series of discussions with my colleague foreign ministers, Douglas Alexander with his colleague Europe ministers, and of course at official level there has been very intensive discussion. We are currently agreeing some of the revisions to the proposals, and they will be made available tomorrow, including, may I say, by way of written ministerial statement tomorrow morning, so we will be publishing the statement with the full details annexed. I am doing it tomorrow morning because in the afternoon there is a debate on the prospects of the European Council, effectively a debate about the budget, so that colleagues on all sides of the House have an opportunity to study the revisions before the debate. So that is where we have got to. These are complex negotiations. They always are; they always will be. I have never been in a negotiation of this complexity within the European Union where people disclose their final hand until they have to, and I am not going to offer a view about whether or not there is success on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. One of the other problems about budget negotiations, as we saw at Luxembourg, is that it is literally, to use the cliché, a zero sum game. There is an issue about the overall size of the budget - the bigger the budget the better it is for those who are benefiting from the budget net, the worse it is for those who are contributing net - and within that overall budget, at the very level of budget, there are very important issues about new benefits from what spending, so it is difficult. For our part, we are doing everything we can to get a deal, but we are not interested in a deal at any price.

Q2 Mr Horam: Could I come back to what you did make public last week, i.e. your negotiating position. Part of that was a link with the Common Agricultural Policy?

Mr Straw: Yes.

Q3 Mr Horam: That is one of your points. A review conducted by the Commission to be submitted in 2000?

Mr Straw: The review, yes.

Q4 Mr Horam: Right?

Mr Straw: Yes.

Q5 Mr Horam: You are proposing a review of the CAP?

Mr Straw: Yes.

Q6 Mr Horam: It is the case, I want you to correct me if I am wrong, that in 2002 the Council did agree that there would be no change in the funding of the CAP until 2013?

Mr Straw: Not quite, is the answer. I can get you the exact text of what was agreed because I was there, but part of the conclusions for that section relating to the CAP began with the preamble, words to the effect that, "This is without prejudice to decisions on the financial perspective for 2007/2013". I am sorry, I should have introduced David Frost and Tim Barrow. Tim is the Deputy Political Director and David is one of the Deputy Directors Europe. But it is words to that effect. It related, as I recall, directly to direct payments, which is a big chunk of CAP spending. It is one of the debates we are having with the French, because they say that back in October 2002 we set the CAP in stone between 2007 and 2013. It is not the case. I would be very happy to provide you with the conclusions that I, indeed, set up.

Q7 Mr Horam: You contend that is not the case?

Mr Straw: I do not only contend that, I was there, and, as I say, the rubric is clear. We can send out for the conclusions. Let us do so.

Q8 Mr Horam: You are saying it is subject to what might be agreed at this Council?

Mr Straw: I am saying that, as I recall the paragraph, it opened with the words - and it was to do specifically with direct payments, which is part, although not the whole, of CAP spending - "This is without prejudice to decisions on future funding in the financial perspective 2007 to 2013."

Q9 Mr Horam: So that is what you are relying on?

Mr Straw: We are also relying----. It is never the case, even if there had been that decision, that it is impossible to change subsequently a decision made now getting on for four years ago, and by the time the review happens it would be six years ago, so it is always the case, as with Parliament. Parliament can decide one thing one day, and, if there is a majority, two days later it can change, but, as it happens, these were difficult negotiations that took place in October 2002 and they went through to 2003 I was there then, I know what was decided and it was a process of reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, first of all. So it is also inaccurate in its own terms to suggest that the CAP was going to remain static, because it has not. Just in the last week we have had this good news on the negotiations in respect of the Sugar Regime. So it was a process of reform, plus the fact that the conclusions made clear, as I said, that it was without prejudice to future decisions on the financial perspective.

Q10 Mr Horam: As you have just said, we have had some recent news about the Sugar Regime, for example. As I understand it, the reforms that flowed from 2002, reforms of agricultural practice, are still coming in, will come in this year, some more will come in next year. One of the criticisms of your position could be that it is rather early to be having a review?

Mr Straw: By the way, I have just had the precise wording passed to me. "It was explicitly agreed without prejudice to future decisions on the CAP and financing of the European Union after 2006", and it set ceilings, not targets, for expenditure. I am not in any doubt that what we are proposing is fully consistent with what was agreed in 2002. It is simply wrong to suggest that, as I say, the decisions made in 2002 were set in concrete. I am sorry, you were asking me a question about sugar.

Q11 Mr Horam: No, I do not want to talk about sugar. I was just saying that, given this is a continuous process of reform of the agricultural system in Europe which is happening this year and happening next year as a consequence of decisions taken in 2002, some would say it is a bit early to have a review of the whole system.

Mr Straw: I do not think it is at all. I am sorry, we may just have to disagree about that. I think that it is exactly the right moment, indeed some would say it is overdue, to have a review of the policies and the funding of those policies of the European Union. There has been change, let me make that clear, and the proportion of the total budget spent on the CAP has been going down in recent years - it is a process we have been pushing - as has the total size of the budget relative to Member States' economies also been gradually reducing, and that is a process we want to accelerate within this budget; but if you look at the negotiations which opened in Hong Kong today, which are directly linked to this, there is a big agenda of change.

Q12 Mr Horam: Market access?

Mr Straw: It is market access, essentially, so that we open up our markets for agriculture. Let me say, we get other people's markets for agriculture opened up as well, and I believe that the French and the British and many other farmers will be able to do very well in exporting to third countries, so this is not a situation where we are going to impoverish rural areas as a result of these changes, but the balance of agriculture will change and in return for that, of course, what we get to is non-agricultural market access, including manufactured goods and services, so it is a big agenda. I cannot predict what is going to happen in Hong Kong, nobody can, but what I am clear about, Mr Horam, is that this pressure for change in the Common Agricultural Policy will not and cannot go away because there is a changing reality in the rest of the world.

Q13 Mr Horam: I understand that completely.

Mr Straw: It is called globalisation. It is also the called impatience by developing countries who are not going to tolerate for very much longer these very high levels of subsidies being paid to European, American and Japanese agriculture.

Q14 Mr Horam: What opinion have you formed over the last six months while we have been the Chair about the reaction of other Member States to your view as expressed now?

Mr Straw: Many are happy about this; some are not. It is inevitable within negotiations, those that are not particularly happy, that you have to goad for persuasion and negotiation, and it is hardly a secret that the French government have reservations, to put it at its mildest, about a review which could impact in the next financial perspective. That is another of these negotiations.

Q15 Chairman: Can I ask a specific question about the detail of the proposals that we are putting forward. As I understand it, although your proposal is for a reduction of the expenditure level that was originally proposed by the Commission and lower than Luxembourg, you are arguing for a substantial increase in some aspects of the European Union funding, particularly common foreign and security policy. Why is that necessary?

Mr Straw: Let me give you some totals here. The Commission recommended a budget set at 1.24 per cent of what is called GNI (gross national income) of the European Union Member States, which would have been 1,025 billion euros over the seven-year period, and that was impossible. The Luxembourg Presidency recommended a budget of 1.06 per cent of GNI, which is 870 billion euros. We are proposing in last Wednesdays negotiating box a budget of about 1.026, and it is 847 billion. The budget for the common foreign and security policy was 16 million euros last year. It has been put up to 100 million euros this year and there are some proposals for it to increase further per year in the future. First of all, these are small sums compared with the total, Chairman. Secondly, why they are necessary is because, not least under our presidency, the common foreign and security policy has been made operational. It is no longer just a rhetorical policy. We are operating it in negotiations, as we are in respect of Iran, but also in respect of these missions, and so we have had a mission to Aceh - we got very little coverage, but a really important mission there, as important in its own way as the decommissioning programmes undertaken in Northern Ireland and the European Union have run it entirely - we have also got the continuing mission in Rafa, and I gather from one member informally that you were impressed with what was going on, but these things cost money, that is why.

Q16 Chairman: You are revising your proposal. Is it likely then that the figure that you have just quoted (1.026) is actually going to be significantly raised tomorrow in order to try and get an agreement that will end up somewhere near where the Luxembourgers were when we finally got an agreement.

Mr Straw: I am not going to, if you do not mind, make predictions about where this may end up, not least because I cannot, but if Luxembourg had been acceptable to us we would have accepted it; so would the other four Member States who turned it down. There will, indeed, be some revisions, but they are going to be revisions around the level we have proposed.

Q17 Mr Horam: Can I ask you one quick question about the Luxembourg suggestion, which was, if I remember rightly, a freezing of the UK rebate, which would mean it would be the same each year as opposed to at the moment a fluctuating amount, which has some disadvantages because it means that sometimes we do not bid for things because we know that it will reduce our rebate. Would you be in favour of a steady amount rather than----

Mr Straw: Look, what happened with Luxembourg, Luxembourg was under pressure to meet various expenditure claims by other Member States which they did, and then they effectively gave us the bill. Just to give you some of the ball park figures, our net contribution in this financial perspective, which ends next year, is 39 billion euro over the period. Without any change in any of the financial arrangements, including the rebate regulation, our net contribution for the next financial perspective from 2007 to 2013 inclusive is due to rise to 50 billion euros, and that is principally but not wholly to pay for the costs of enlargement. What the Luxembourgers said is that, having risen already by 11 billion, it should rise by a further 25 billion to 75, so it was an increase of about 93 per cent on 39, and they were going to do that by freezing the abatement, and it is simply unacceptable and it is unacceptable because of the cost to us and it is unacceptable in principle as well. What we have said in our proposals is that we recognise, number one, that when the rebate regulations were negotiated in 1984 there was no expectation whatsoever that within a period of 20 years the European Union would expand to take into its membership what at that stage were Soviet satellites. The issue before the Union was essentially making up membership within Western Europe, not that, and nobody has ever suggested that the UK, as one of the more prosperous countries, should not make a fair contribution towards the costs of enlargement and of expanding those economies, and that is why we have made proposals in this negotiating box for an increase over the 50 billion starting point, default setting, of around eight billion euros, but we have also said very clearly that that is linked to the abatement or what would otherwise be the abatement, on structural and cohesion funds in the enlarged accession countries, the A10 countries. Where we are adamant is that the rebate should be untouched in respect of any spending inside the pre-existing 15 Member States and agriculture anywhere in the European Union, unless and until there are the major reforms that we have been seeking. So, that is the background. Chairman, you did ask me earlier about are some budget headings going to increase. It is not just the FSP which will be increased. Structural cohesion fund spending to the accession ten countries will increase very significantly by a factor of five, I think, on current levels of spending, and there will be corresponding reductions.

Q18 Sir John Stanley: Foreign Secretary, I do not know whether you have given consideration to yours and the Prime Minister's negotiating strategy on this, but has it not been a pretty disastrous misjudgment to take up a position sustained over months, if not years, of the British rebate as non-negotiable only to come to a position where it is patently obvious it is now wholly negotiable and with a bottom line for reasons that we understand at this particular moment? What credibility are you and the Foreign Office and the British Government going to have in future EU negotiations when you take the position that something is non-negotiable when you have been so clearly driven from that particular position on this particular occasion?

Mr Straw: I do not accept that we have. I have certainly never used the word "non negotiable", as far as I recall. What I have said is that the rebate is fully justified and, moreover, we are not negotiating on the rebate as it was agreed in 1984. I have just spelt out the fact that the rebate will not be affected by a cent or a penny in respect of any aspect of spending within the E15 nor any aspect of agricultural spending anywhere inside the Union. What, however, I note is that nobody in all the debates on accession on any side has ever said that the much poorer countries inside the accession ten states should effectively pay their share towards our rebate, because the rebate was never designed like that. The rebate, let us be clear, was designed to ensure that there was equity between otherwise similar states, principally France, Italy and the UK, in terms of our contribution to the EU. There was not equity because of the imbalance in spending towards agriculture, and that was a reason why the rebate was obtained. Let me say to you that there has not been equity until very recently, and one of the things that is going to happen under our proposals is that there will in future be a broad equity in spending between France, Italy and the UK for the first time ever, something that the then Mrs Thatcher was unable to achieve. As I say, going back to the core of your point, I think our partners understand our position exactly. It was precisely because we were not willing to negotiate the rebate away in June that the Prime Minister and I dug in and one of the reasons why there was no agreement, but we were joined by four other Member States, and so, far from Member States drawing the conclusion you suggested, Sir John, they have drawn the opposite one, which is that we are tough negotiators and if we think a deal is unsatisfactory for the United Kingdom, and I may say for the European Union, we will simply not agree it, and they all understand that.

Q19 Sir John Stanley: Are you assuring the Committee that as far as the element of a rebate is concerned which is applicable to the previous Member States before the recent enlargement, that the value of that will be wholly maintained in the negotiation?

Mr Straw: Yes, and it goes back to points the Prime Minister has made and, indeed, I note from recent debate in the House of Lords, Lord Howe, who was there at start, has made, but the rebate is an anomaly, but it is an anomaly built on a much bigger anomaly, namely the distortions of spending throughout the European Union. It will remain unamended within the existing 15 Member States unless and until there is agreement to remove the underlying causes of the rebate, and if there were and we have then got into a more rational overall pattern of spending and revenue raising, then the case for the rebate would fall away, but in my judgment that will be a long way off, and it is certainly not for these negotiations.

Q20 Chairman: Thank you. We have to move on.

Mr Straw: Can I also just say, because it may be helpful to the Committee, the rebate is rising as well. It has been five billion euros in this financial perspective, on average. It is going to rise to, on average, seven billion euros in the next financial perspective.

Andrew Mackinlay: Can I just bounce this off the Foreign Secretary? It is frustrating that the thing is going to be published tomorrow when one might have thought it might perhaps have been possible today - that is an aside - but what happens if there is deadlock? We do need to understand, Chairman, if everyone digs in, how that funding operation goes to the European Union. The other thing which I wanted to ask you. I am told that one of the problems for the European Union ten is that they actually have not got the machinery of government to spend some of the rebate. How true is that in your view?

Mr Straw: Three points, Mr Mackinlay. First, you express frustration about the fact that we have not published the proposals to date. If they had been ready we would have published them. Let me say, I do my very best to ensure that members are given advance notice of these things, and that is why I am making every effort to ensure they are made available tomorrow morning in advance of the debate. I feel perfectly confident about these proposals. In any event, it would be totally inappropriate to try and hide them. Your second point was about deadlock. Decisions on the budget require unanimity, so, as we saw in June, if there is not unanimity there is no agreement. The current budget runs until the end of next year, but if there is deadlock then the treaties and practice provide for budgets to be rolled over, and there are various mechanisms, and Mr Frost can explain these in detail, by which, if they wish, the European parliament can "denounce the position of the European Council". The overall effect of all this is that, roughly speaking, you run the pattern of budget, maximum budget, at about 1.05.

Mr Frost: A bit less.

Mr Straw: A bit less, nought four, nought five. We do not want to do that though, because it becomes very static and we want to move forward. One of the problems is that if there is no agreement it makes the problem which was mentioned in your third question about the capacity of the accession countries to spend what has been allocated much more difficult because they need long lead times to build up their capacity. None of them up to now, and they have only been members since May of last year, have been able to spend what has been allocated. That is not unusual, it happens with countries being in the European Union for a long time, and they have had a history of under spending, monies have been allocated under external aid budgets in the past as well, so they are very anxious for a budget deal so that they have certainty about the levels. Also some of them are anxious about a budget deal by December because of what is called the "statistical effect", in other words that they benefit from the statistics which would apply to a budget currently available, and they will lose out under next years statistics because their economies are growing and so fewer areas will qualify for this spend. This is part of our detailed discussions with the A10 colleagues. What we have done is this. We have reduced the headline figure for structural cohesion fund spending in the A10 countries because we had to get the budget down from 1.06, which was unacceptable to many partners, to a lower figure, and a number of budget heads were reduced - SCF for the A10, rural development, for example, in the existing 15, and some other changes as well. At the same time as doing that we proposed a series of technical, but very important, changes which will make it easier for these countries to spend so they are able to roll-over allocations from one year to the next more easily. Two countries said that they wanted to use structural cohesion funds for social housing - so for the first time we are saying that that should be available for social housing - and there are many other changes like that which will make it easier for them to spend.

Q21 Chairman: Now we are moving on.

Mr Straw: What are we moving on to?

Chairman: Rendition.

Q22 Mr Illsley: Foreign Secretary, we have seen positions changing slightly over the last few days. We have seen the statement by Condoleezza Rice admitting that the US have used rendition previously but denying any use of rendition for the purposes of torture, and in a reply to Ming Campbell, I think, yesterday it has been indicated that in the past there have been requests to ourselves for rendition. This is despite previous statements to the contrary that we were not aware of any such requests in the past. Can you give a categorical statement to this Committee now that this government is not involved in any type of rendition, that we are not assisting, with the Americans, in rendition of their suspects or their personnel and that we are definitely not involved in any rendition of anyone for the purposes of being taken to another country to a secret site, or whatever, for the purposes of torture?

Mr Straw: First of all on your last point, Eric, yes, I absolutely categorically can give you that undertaking. On the wider issue, rendition is a term of art which covers a variety of activities. At one end it could be used to include the transfer of a suspect, which happened on two occasions when I was Home Secretary, not Foreign Secretary, in 1998, as I drew to Ming Campbell's attention, where the United States were transferring an individual from a third country to the United States to face trial. They had assured us that, although there was not an extradition concerned, the transfer took place lawfully with the agreement both of the host country - the original country - and was consistent with the United States' law. Since also I was satisfied about the potential treatment of the suspects when they arrived at their destination, namely that they we were going for trial in the United States, I agreed that transfer. I do not remember it being called rendition, but it may have been. There was also, as I said to Ming in answer to his question, another case - we are still trying to pin down the records but it is in the recollection of the officials concerned and also broadly in my recollection that there was an application by the United States for transfer from the United States to a third country. I was not satisfied in that case that one could be guaranteed about the potential treatment of the suspect and so I refused the facilitation. Those three cases, there could possibly be a fourth, and the Home Office are checking, all happened under the Clinton administration. As I said in answer to the question from Ming, and it was based on very thorough research both from Foreign Office and Home Office files and other files, there is no record whatsoever of any request for what is now called rendition from the United States' government either to the United States or to a third country which we in the UK government have received either in respect of facilitation where the plane has landed or in respect of over flights. I also say to you two other things. First of all, had that happened through United Kingdom airspace or on United Kingdom territory, I expect that we would have received a request by the United States' government, because that has been their consistent practice, as is evidenced by what happened in 1998. The second thing I say is this. I wrote to Secretary Rice at the end of November after the General Affairs Council and the general discussion in the European Union raised concern about the reports that had been received. She responded to that request with a very detailed statement setting out the position of the United States government, and that set out, amongst many other things: "The United States has respected and will continue to respect the sovereignty of our countries. The United States does not transport and has not transported detainees from one country to another for the purpose of interrogation using torture. The United States does not use the airspace or the airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he or she will be tortured." So I hope the result both of what I have said in answer to Ming and what Secretary Rice has said to me in answer to my enquiry should provide serious reassurance to those who understandably have been worried about this in the reports.

Q23 Sandra Osborne: There is a great deal of worry around this issue, as you know, and I appreciate the officials have been carrying out quite substantial research into exactly what has been happening, but I notice that some other EU countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain have actually launched investigations at a judicial level in relation to extraordinary renditions. Do you not think there is a case for the UK to do that, and does the EU itself have a responsibility to investigate any breaches of human rights in its airspace or territory?

Mr Straw: I cannot speak for what is happening in Germany or other countries, and they must make their own judgments. There may have been calls for these, but I am unaware of any such investigation. I do not think that there is any case whatsoever for such an investigation here. Ming Campbell, a very distinguished parliamentarian, asked me a question and I did what it is my duty to do, which is to provide a thorough comprehensive answer. That has been done. It has produced a nil return. Unless we all start to believe in conspiracy theories and that the officials are lying, that I am lying, that behind this there is some kind of secret state which is in league with some dark forces in the United States, and also let me say, we believe that Secretary Rice is lying, there simply is no truth in the claims that the United Kingdom has been involved in rendition full stop, because we have not been, and so what on earth a judicial inquiry would start to do I have no idea. I do not think it would be justified. While we are on this point, Chairman, can I say this? Some of the reports which are given credibility, including one this morning on the Today programme, are in the realms of the fantastic. There was a report this morning on the Today programme suggesting that intelligence staff from the United Kingdom have been involved in interrogation and maltreatment of detainees in Greece. Normally when you get allegations, however fantastical, we choose to neither confirm nor deny them because that is the only way you can protect intelligence, but let me just say in respect of those allegations that they are complete nonsense and no United Kingdom officials have taken part in any alleged mistreatment in Greece of any suspects whatsoever and we were not involved in the arrest or detention of those particular suspects.

Q24 Richard Younger-Ross: You have been very clear about official requests for rendition through the United Kingdom. It does raise a question, of course, how they managed to transfer the prisoners to Guantànamo Bay in the first place. Obviously the route is being used, not through the UK in that that instance, but in terms of the requests, those requests would only be for military or state flights, official flights, US flights? Private flights can come and go. Have you been made aware by any of your officials or any official from any other department of any concerns or knowledge they have of any private flights being used for rendition?

Mr Straw: No, I have not. Can I say that part of the search of papers conducted at the Home Office and the Foreign Office was not only for cases but also for policy papers - I think that is reflected in the answer which I gave - but those produced a nil return as well. In any event, the permission is not contingent on the nature of the aeroplane, it is contingent on the nature of the activity being conducted either in the aeroplane or on the ground; so I do not think the fact that it was a private flight is relevant. I have no idea whether it was a private flight or a military flight or a CIA flight that was involved in the 1998 transfers which I authorised and it is not relevant. The question was the United States government understood that in using our airspace and our territory they needed our permission to effect a transfer, so they sought it.

Q25 Mr Purchase: Secretary of State, three little subsets to this discussion. We have heard from a number of bodies now who seem quite clear in their minds that there are torture camps across Eastern Europe and perhaps elsewhere. Is there any evidence that you have that such camps exist, has information been passed to you which may be thought to have been obtained by methods of torture, and, finally, if such information was offered, in whatever circumstances, what would be the response of the British government?

Mr Straw: On your first, I have seen no evidence. I understand, obviously, the concerns that are around, but, first of all, there are no secret prisons in the United Kingdom. Fortunately, I think that is an allegation that has not yet been made but unless I deny it it quite soon will be; so you got it first, this denial of an allegation that is yet to be made! But there are no secret prisons here. I have set out the position so far as the United Kingdom government is concerned, we are not responsible for third countries, but let me also make it clear that Dr Rice in her letter to me set out the position - I assume you have seen the letter and the statement, it is a very detailed statement - and she says there that the United States has respected and will continue to respect the sovereignty of other countries. So, if the United States has entered into some agreement for facilities with a third country, it would be with the full knowledge and understanding of that country. If you ask me whether they have, whether I have information that they have, the answer to that question is, "No". Your other question related to.

Q26 Mr Purchase: No evidence of torture camps elsewhere?

Mr Straw: None whatever.

Q27 Mr Purchase: None whatever?

Mr Straw: On the undertakings that Secretary Rice has given, nor do they exist as far as the United States is concerned. I think if someone of the position of Secretary Rice and her integrity makes statements like this they ought to be assumed to be correct. On the issue of obtaining evidence, intelligence, by torture, the position has been set out a number of times, but let me repeat it. We are against the use of torture. I am against the use of torture because it is torture and it is wholly immoral. There is a subsidiary reason why I am against the use of torture, which is that evidence obtained under torture is much less likely to be reliable and that is why British courts have always regarded evidence obtained in that way, whether it is obtained under torture or what is called duress, as unreliable, so we do not seek such evidence, we do not rely on it. I have never had piece of paper produced before me where on the rubric it says, "We believe this has been obtained under torture." The other problem about torture is that those who commit the torture deny it to themselves as much as they deny it to other people, so to track it is very difficult, but we are alive to those countries where we think malpractice of all kinds is used and we seek to deal with it.

Q28 Mr Purchase: The third question, if such information was offered?

Mr Straw: It comes to this. First of all, I do not think it ever will be offered, because I think, if you go through the list of countries where we and America and other leading human rights NGOs believe that the mistreatment of suspects takes place, I do not think you will find a single one of those countries which says it does take place. All of us, and this applies to everybody here in this room, I am quite sure, if we were offered a piece of intelligence which, for example, said there was going to be a terrorist outrage tomorrow and it appeared to be credible, we would be duty bound to act on that regardless of the provenance of it. Everybody understands that. We have to do that. At the same time we have to take account of our suspicions as to where it has come from and not ever either to authorise the use of torture in the obtaining of intelligence or to suggest that we are somehow complicit or accommodating to this, because we are not, and I am not. I am against it.

Q29 Mr Keetch: Foreign Secretary, can we be clear about your answer yesterday to my colleague, Sir Ming Campbell, when you used the expression "UK territory and airspace". Does that include British dependent territories overseas?

Mr Straw: Diego Garcia.

Q30 Mr Keetch: Diego Garcia or RAF Akrotiri in the southern base area of Cyprus?

Mr Straw: The search was related to the UK mainland, all right, and the requests that I received in 1998 related to the UK mainland. What I can say to you, and I will need to make some more enquiries and come back to this Committee about your question about Diego Garcia, not in relation to any rendition but certainly in relation to other activities based on Diego Garcia that United States government does seek our permission, but I cannot give you a specific answer on that.

Q31 Mr Keetch: Because your colleague Iain Pearson told the Committee in answer to a question from me two weeks ago that his definition when he sought advice from his officials of UK territory and airspace did include Diego Garcia, did include Akrotiri and, indeed, did include Gibraltar - I threw that one in as well - so it would be very helpful if we could have that direct view, particularly, obviously, on Diego Garcia.

Mr Straw: Can I say that had the search thrown up examples of requests, then, of course, I would have reported them to the House via the answer to Ming Campbell, but you asked me a very specific question about whether what I had in mind there was UK mainland territory.

Q32 Mr Keetch: Perhaps we can clarify that. You are absolutely certain that the accusations made in The Times and elsewhere today that British MI6 agents have been involved in the torture of 28 Pakistani originated detainees in Greece, we can forget that as being complete nonsense, as you said?

Mr Straw: Yes.

Q33 Mr Keetch: Excellent. Given that and given the growing concerns - Mrs Osborne referred to the inquiries in Canada, in Spain, in Italy - also given the fact that even now in the House we have an All Party Parliamentary Group set up on this subject, and I cannot speak for the Committee, but if this Committee were to seek to investigate this issue of extraordinary rendition, would you give us an assurance that any officials in the FCO and any agency that are responsible to the FCO would be prepared to give evidence to this Committee, if necessary in private, so that we could once and for all allay the fears that are quite clearly in parliament and elsewhere?

Mr Straw: Mr Keech, no, I would not, and I think you understand very readily why not: because that is getting into the territory of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Am I ready for an appropriate committee of parliamentarians to investigate such allegations? Yes. I know this is delicate territory, but you have one role and the ISC has another.

Q34 Chairman: We will come back to this matter.

Mr Straw: Let me say too, so far as individuals who believe that they have suffered wrong at the hands of intelligence or security agencies are concerned, they have a statutory right to make a complaint to the relevant intelligence services commissioner, who are senior judicial figures who will then investigate, and that may be helpful to Mrs Osborne when she was asking me about judicial inquiry and anybody who believes they have been wronged, including these people who claim that they were ill-treated by British intelligence in Greece and feel that they can make that reference.

Q35 Chairman: But given that we have signed the Geneva Convention, given that we have signed conventions against torture in 1948, 1966, 1950 and 1984, you would confirm that any British official employed by her Majesty's Government in any sense involved in this practice or involved in the kind of action we are talking about in terms of rendition might well be in contradiction of the Geneva Convention and those other conventions we have signed?

Mr Straw: Plainly torture is illegal, complicity in torture is also illegal - it is illegal under our law and under international law - and so, if anybody were involved, they would be committing a criminal offence; but let us just come back to the reality of the way in which our intelligence and security agencies operate. They do not do this. I have been responsible for one or other of the three intelligence and security agency services over the last eight and a half years, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, and I have never ever seen an allegation of this kind, but if there are allegations, of course they would be investigated, and there is appropriate parliamentary oversight of the intelligence and security services as well.

Q36 Sir John Stanley: Foreign secretary, you will be aware from the extensive coverage which this particular allegation has had in a number of newspapers that a UK civil rights lawyer, Mr Clive Stafford-Smith, has produced a dossier of papers, if I can use that word in this committee, on behalf of his client, Mr Benyam Mohammed al-Habashi. You said to the Committee a moment ago that the British government was in no way complicit in the use of torture as far as any individual is concerned. You will be aware that in these allegations Mr Habashi has alleged that MI6 handed him over to the CIA, Mr Habashi describes an account of someone he believes to be an MI6 officer and details the horror of his torture. Mr Habashi says the officer told him: "I will see what we can do with the Americans." "They gave me a cup of tea with a lot sugar in it. He said, 'Where you are going you will need a lot of sugar'", and he went on to say that he was interrogated for 18 months in a Moroccan prison, had his penis cut with a scalpel; he also claims he was chained to a wall for days, chained to the floor in a pitch dark cell in Kabul and turned into a heroin addict. I should add that it is also alleged that the Americans take the view, which I believe he denies, that he is involved in some way in planning a dirty bomb attack in America, which he denies. The question I want to put to you is when you gave the Committee an assurance a moment ago that the British government was in no way complicit in the use of torture against people who are British citizens, does that extend to not being complicit in the activities of the intelligence agencies?

Mr Straw: Look, let me just say this, and again I repeat the point. In normal circumstances, and we cannot, nobody could in my position, give a running commentary even on very extreme and totally untrue allegations, but in these two cases, because of the very fevered interest in these cases and the extent of the misinformation about them, I think it appropriate to do so, but I also preface that by saying that if Mr Stafford-Smith wants to on behalf of his client, he is fully entitled to ask the Intelligence Services Commission to investigate this and to offer whatever evidence he has. The situation is this. Mr Al Habashi was interviewed once by a member of the UK Security Service while he was in detention in Karachi in 2002. The Security Service had no role in his capture or in his transfer from Pakistan. The Intelligence and Security Committee report into the handling of detainees by UK intelligence personnel gave details of the guidance under which such interviews were conducted, and the service officer did not observe any abuse and no instances of abuse were reported to him by Mr Habashi. I hope that is helpful.

Q37 Sir John Stanley: It is helpful. It does not answer the question was Mr Habashi handed over deliberately by the British intelligence services to the CIA?

Mr Straw: I have just read out, Sir John, "The service had no role in his capture or transfer from Pakistan."

Q38 Sir John Stanley: That is a different question?

Mr Straw: I do not think it is; that is the same question.

Q39 Sir John Stanley: Can you clarify it: no role in his transfer to Pakistan?

Mr Straw: From Pakistan.

Q40 Sir John Stanley: From Pakistan.

Mr Straw: It is what you asked me.

Q41 Sir John Stanley: No, I am sorry, the allegation is that he was handed over to the CIA in Pakistan.

Mr Straw: I know nothing about it.

Q42 Sir John Stanley: Could you clarify that in a further letter to the Committee?

Mr Straw: I may or may not is the answer, because I think basically these are matters for investigation by the ISC.

Q43 Sir John Stanley: I think it is very relevant to the broad policy point which is wholly within the remit of this Committee. We are simply asking whether you have knowledge that MI6 were aware of this particular case. The question I am putting to you is: Was he handed over in Pakistan to the CIA?

Mr Straw: As I say, I will consider your question and offer a reply.

Q44 Mr Illsley: Given that Condoleezza Rice has stated that America does use rendition, and some other countries actually use rendition, will we now insist on records of flights in and out of this country which are taking part in rendition and will we allow this to continue?

Mr Straw: First of all, other countries do. That is pointed out in Condoleezza Rice's statement, and this includes France which has used this practice. If it is lawful, and it happens not to be lawful in this country - Sir John will remember when that was established - it was as a result of a decision which followed an arrest in Zambia of a Provisional IRA suspect called Mullen in 1988 where there was a transfer from that country by arrangement with the local authorities which by-passed the extradition arrangements and Mullen spent ten years in prison, properly convicted, but later, when information came out about the circumstances in which the transfer took place, the Court of Appeal, in 1999, decided to overturn his conviction on the grounds of abuse of the process, and that decision in the Court of Appeal established the parameters of what we call "rendition" in UK law, but it could be lawful here if Parliament so decided. There is nothing in international law which says that transfers between two countries which, provided they meet other standards of human rights and treatment, are unlawful. On the issue of flights, Mr Illsley, your question pre-supposes that there are scores and scores and scores of people being transferred through the UK without proper extradition or rendition. I have sought to answer that.

Q45 Mr Illsley: Some.

Mr Straw: When we are moving around the world in military planes and in private planes we are not required by our allies to give a lot of detail about what is happening on those planes or the purpose, because these are normal facilitations of flights and I do not think there is a case for changing that. The Committee can propose it and we can consider it, but I have seen no paper suggesting there is a case for changing it.

Q46 Richard Younger-Ross: You were very clear in your answer to my colleague, Paul Keetch, in regarding complicity as an offence as much as torture. The US seem to have changed the definition of what is a risk and international law, I understand, says that you shall not transfer someone to a country where there is a substantial ground to believe that there is torture. Can you say whether you support that as the correct definition?

Mr Straw: If you want to ask the United States government questions, ask them. I am responsible for our practice here. I thought Secretary Rice's statement, however, was very comprehensive and I invite you to read it. It sets out the position. She made it absolutely clear that the prohibition against United States personnel being involved in torture not only applied within the United States but across the rest of the world as well. She was absolutely explicit about this. She provided that clarification when she was in Kiev last Wednesday morning. Our position is the overriding moral position that torture is wrong. Leaving aside any international obligations we are under, I have made that position clear. Secondly, however, there is the Convention Against Torture. We apply it to its letter and its spirit.

Q47 Richard Younger-Ross: I ask you the question because if next week you had a communication from the US saying that they wished to transfer someone through the UK, at the moment, our ground would be if they are substantial they would not be transferred, but the US definition seems to be that it is more than likely not to occur.

Mr Straw: The judgment on that particular issue would be based on the way we treat it. When I looked at these cases seven years ago, that was how you judged this. Anybody making a decision, being placed in the position of the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary where the UK government is asked for its permission, has to apply himself or herself on the basis of UK law. That of course includes considerations about Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and what is in the jurisprudence of the 1996 Jahal case from the European Court of Human Rights. Whatever position the United States took about it, about whether it was substantial risk, real risk or a higher probability than not, we would apply ourselves on the basis of UK law which is very careful indeed, properly, not to allow for anybody to be transferred where there is a real risk of torture.

Q48 Richard Younger-Ross: There are countries where we have an agreement now, where we can deport people, where we have an understanding they will not be tortured. Will we assume that the understanding would apply to American transfers to that country or not?

Mr Straw: These agreements are specific. They concern countries where there has been concern in the past about their treatment of prisoners. It may have been torture; it may have been ill treatment. Under these agreements, we gave specific undertakings in respect of the specific prisoners who would be transferred. Were it to be the case that we were invited to agree to a facilitation of a transfer to a Third country whose human rights record was questionable, the law applies in the same way as it does in respect of a transfer or deportation of a prisoner. If it is our responsibility, it is our responsibility. The fact that there was an MOU in respect of asylum deportees or prisoners who had been subject to a deportation order would have some relevance in the case but it would very much depend on what the MOU said and what undertakings you could gain in respect of that particular transferee. I think it is pretty academic, by the way, but if it were to happen that would be the situation.

Q49 Andrew Mackinlay: When you were Home Secretary the requests came under the auspices of the Justice Department, I assume, and certainly not the CIA, so I do not think we are necessarily comparing like with like. I do feel that all of us, journalists and politicians, are conflating two things. People who are being transferred on a Gulfstream jet are not necessarily going for torture. There could be torture without travelling on a Gulfstream aeroplane. Richard Younger-Ross earlier asked you about private flights and just a few moments ago you volunteered the fact that we do not know, because that is the international arrangement, who is being moved in private jets. I put it to you that this is the great problem you and we have and maybe even Condoleezza Rice has. If I am an intelligence agency in the United States or whatever, if I transfer people in "private jets" I can do that without presumably much more reference in their administrations. United Kingdom authorities do not know. That is the way I understood your evidence a few moments ago. You were saying, "If it is a private jet, we do not know."

Mr Straw: What I was saying was that, as a matter of routine when we are travelling, the UK moves its RAF transport aircraft around the world. These are not the subject of detailed scrutiny by the local authorities concerned. Indeed, since I travel on RAF planes, I can confirm that when we are refuelling in Bari in Italy, which we sometimes do, the local authorities do not come on board because maintaining the integrity of the planes is very important. There are military policemen on the planes to ensure that. That practice applies, for example, for all our members of NATO. I think it is part of the arrangements of NATO. That does not mean that there is carte blanche for a private plane hired in by a government that is a member of NATO to undertake activities which require the permission of the domestic government but to avoid that permission. I go back to the answers I gave earlier. The answer I gave to Menzies Campbell could not have been more comprehensive than it was. Coupled with the assurances from Condoleezza Rice, I believe it is extremely improbable that any such flights have taken place through United Kingdom airspace or landing in British airports. If you are asking me to prove a negative, none of us can prove negatives. That is the nature of life. If you are asking me to make assessments of the world in which we live, I have done that.

Q50 Chairman: We have been using the word "torture" here. It is said that we have a different view in this country about rendition to the United States. Do we have a different definition of torture?

Mr Straw: No. "Torture" is clearly defined. There is also cruel and unusual punishment and general ill treatment.

Q51 Chairman: It has been reported that certain activities are permissible in the United States in interrogations which are not permissible in our definitions because the things done by the US are not defined by them as being torture.

Mr Straw: I think I know what you are talking about. I do not think either would be described as torture. I think it is about unfair treatment, less than torture. It is certainly the case that we pride ourselves in this country in being punctilious in the way in which we treat suspects and rightly so. I can get you a note on this.

Q52 Chairman: It would be very important for clarification. Can we move on to issues relating to the European Union and other areas? Can you say something about the progress made with regard to the counter-terrorism strategy? What is that likely to include when it is agreed?

Mr Straw: There was an extraordinary JHA Council on 12 July at which agreed to accelerate implementation of the EU action plan for combating terrorism which had been first agreed after the Madrid bombings. At the JHA Council on 1 and 2 September, a new EU counter-terrorism strategy set out common division for counter terrorism work, identified specific priorities, and it is a framework for policy and work for the future. It adopted a common position on the Data Retention Directive which we believe will pass its first reading in the European Parliament tomorrow, a new strategy for combating radicalisation and recruitment, a report on the EU crisis coordination arrangements, principles for protecting critical infrastructure, an evaluation of national counter-terrorism arrangements and a measure to improve exchange of law enforcement information.

Q53 Chairman: Does that also have implications for the external relations of the European Union or is that separate?

Mr Straw: It is separate really. A lot of our external relations have implications for the fight against terrorism, of course.

Q54 Chairman: Was there not discussion also of developing a counter-terrorism strategy with regard to the external relations?

Mr Straw: At Barcelona we agreed. A very important product of the Barcelona European agreement was the statement on terrorism. For the first time ever, the Arab states and Israel agreed to counter terrorism, full stop. There was none of the usual equivocation that we have seen. Secondly, an action plan was agreed.

Q55 Chairman: Is that the responsibility of the Commission under its 2006 programme or is it something which is being pursued within the Council of Ministers with Mr Solana?

Mr Frost: There has been some work done during our presidency and beforehand on the external aspects of JHA which go much wider than just counter-terrorism. For example, the migration papers which come to this European Council. There is an external angle, in a way, to a good deal of justice and home affairs work. As to who is responsible, it depends on the particular bit of business you are talking about, whether it is the Council, the Commission, how the Parliament is involved and so on.

Q56 Andrew Mackinlay: I understand the European Union has a list of products which require export licences. It has been put to me that this is flawed because it has a catch all phrase which says, "If the things are not listed above, there is a burden on exporters to flag this up with the authorities." It has been put to me that that is wholly unsatisfactory because it puts the burden on people who are exporting and there is disparity within the European Union, partly because of this ambiguity. Is this a big lacuna?

Mr Straw: Are you talking about dual use products?

Q57 Andrew Mackinlay: Yes.

Mr Straw: I am not aware of it being a great lacuna. We have the EU common position on arms control and that sets out a series of common criteria. I think there are eight. We have all signed up to that and we all apply it. There are ways in which the procedure could be improved. At the moment, if say we receive an application for an arms control licence and we refuse it, we are under an obligation to tell our partners we have refused it but we are not under a corresponding obligation to our partners when we agree it. When the debate about the lifting of the China arms embargo was more current, we proposed that there ought to be symmetry here so that there was a much better sharing of information and other improvements in the way the arms control system operates. I am not aware of that.

Q58 Sir John Stanley: Has your department sought any information from other EU Member States as to the existing legislation in their countries as to the maximum period of days people can be detained on suspicion of terrorism - in other words comparable to the debate we have been having in this country over the 90 days? Have you sought comparative information from other countries?

Mr Straw: Yes, and I published it to Parliament going on six or seven weeks ago or maybe earlier. Officials both in London and in posts did a great deal of work on this and I published it as a command paper.

Q59 Sir John Stanley: Have you sought information about any Europol view on that particular point?

Mr Straw: I have not but it would be a matter for the Home Secretary anyway.

Q60 Mr Illsley: It is just over two years now since you led the E3 mission to Tehran when this Committee was in that city on a visit to begin this process of dialogue on Iran's nuclear programme. Since then, Iran's stance has hardened somewhat and it has been revealed that they perhaps did have the technology to begin enriching uranium. Could you tell us what the current situation is with regard to that? Have the negotiations with Russia on the possible plan to allow Russia to conduct low grade enrichment of uranium been accepted by Iran? Will that go forward?

Mr Straw: That particular plan has not been accepted by the Iranians but nor has it been rejected. It is one of the possibilities on the table. In the September board, Iran was declared non-compliant with its safeguard obligations in a number of respects. That was by a larger margin than we had anticipated. It was 22 of the 35 members of the board of governors. There was a further report from Dr El Baradei at the meeting on 24 November. No resolution was taken. We listened very carefully to what Dr El Baradei and others had proposed which is that the Iranians should be given a further period of time to bring themselves into compliance. As Dr El Baradei said in interviews which he did at the time of his installation for the Peace Prize, what that does is give Iran and the E3 until March hopefully to reach some agreement because the next meeting of the board will be in March. That is the procedural situation. There was a lot of hope after that agreement which we reached on 21 October 2003 in Tehran and that continued through last year when we got the Paris agreement made in November and even ran through to the meeting in Geneva that was held at the end of May of this year. Since then there has been no action. There is a new president, a new government and they have taken a different approach to these negotiations whilst at the same time saying that they are not developing a nuclear weapon system and they will be compliant. Also, the personalities have changed. Dr Rajani, who was head of the National Security Council, has been replaced by Mr Larijani. Meanwhile on 2 August, the day before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad formally took office, the government announced that it was restarting conversion as Isfahan which we regret and deplore. What I hope will happen is that the Iranians will make use of this opportunity that they have. They have sought a delay. That has been granted but it is very important for them to understand that the international community has a very clear red line and that is the restarting of enrichment or related activities. We have made it clear time and time again that Iran, like any other signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, has every right to develop nuclear power plants but also, like every non-nuclear weapon state which is all but five of the signatories to the NPT, they are under very explicit obligations under Article 2 of the Non-Proliferation Treaty not to do anything which could lead to the development of a capability towards nuclear weapons. They have been found non-compliant with safeguard agreements which relate to those obligations. It is very important that they bring themselves back into compliance. If they were to restart enrichment, they would place themselves in very serious difficulties.

Q61 Mr Illsley: Is there any realistic prospect of Iran coming back into compliance?

Mr Straw: I hope so. We are trying to assist them to do so. They say that they wish to be compliant with the NPT. That is good. They also say that they are not developing a nuclear weapon system and that is not the purpose of their fuel cycle. What we are seeking to do is to provide the Iranian Government with a reassurance about its nuclear power programme in a way that provides objective guarantees to the rest of the world that it is indeed the case that they are not developing a nuclear weapons capability.

Q62 Mr Hamilton: A few week ago, as you know, this Committee went to Israel and to Saudi Arabia. I was on the Saudi Arabian leg of the trip but before that I was on a private visit to Israel where I met a senior military intelligence source who expressed very deep concern about what was going on in Iran and expressed the view that the Israeli Government was quite content with the Iranians developing, as you have quite rightly said, nuclear power for peaceful use but was very worried about their secret plans for enrichment. That may be an expected response from the Israeli Government but when we were in Saudi Arabia and we asked our interlocutors there what their view was, knowing that relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran are not particularly brilliant, about the possibility of weaponised uranium/plutonium and therefore the development of a weapons programme by the Iranians, their view was, firstly, the United Kingdom has nuclear weapons so who are you to tell people to stop producing nuclear weapons and, secondly, you did not stop Israel. How do we respond to that? Your trip two years with the foreign ministers of Germany and France was widely praised. What more can you do as part of the European Union, the tripartite group of three, to carry on that dialogue and stop the development without appearing to be hypocritical to the rest of the world?

Mr Straw: We are carrying on the dialogue. There were meetings held at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September with Mr Larijani and President Ahmadinejad. I put out feelers to them in advance of that and we hope that there will be scope of a restart of formal negotiations but there have to be negotiations about something. The Iranians signed up to the Paris agreement which they subsequently broke. That is the problem we have. The only way in which Iran will be able to come back into compliance and see a pathway in which over time their relationship with all the rest of the world, including the United States, can be normalised, in my judgment, is through this process. There is no other process on offer. One of the things we have been able to achieve in the last two years, although we are responsible, the E3 and the EU alone, for the policy decisions we make about the negotiations, is that we have had benign support for our position both from the United States and from the Russian federation and China. We are grateful to them for that. They will make their own judgments at each stage about what we are doing. I note what you report about the reaction of the Saudi Government but one of the reasons why it is so important to get these objective guarantees that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapons system is because, if Iran did have a nuclear weapons system, this would radically affect the balance of power within the Middle East and more widely and could well lead to some Arab states deciding it was necessary for them to develop nuclear weapons. We could see a cycle of proliferation. My private conversations with people across the Arab world do not suggest that they are relaxed about the idea of Iran being a nuclear weapon state.

Q63 Mr Hamilton: I do not think they are for one minute. What we heard from the Saudis was that they were extremely concerned but you could not answer the question which they put to us which was, "You let the Israelis develop these nuclear weapons so why should not the Iranians?"

Mr Straw: Not us principally. The technology came from the French. First of all, the Non-Proliferation Treaty separates states into nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapon states. I do not regard that as hypocritical. It was part of a real effort made in the late 1960s to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. President Kennedy made a speech in 1960/1 saying that if we go on as we are there will be 20 or 30 countries with nuclear weapon systems by the end of the century. Everybody recognised that this could lead to the destruction of the planet. What was effected by the NPT was a deal between the five permanent members of the Security Council who each happened to have or have had nuclear weapon systems and the rest of the world, in which the bargain was that no other country would develop nuclear weapon systems. It was not in their interests to do so. At the same time, every country had a right to develop or to run nuclear power plants and the nuclear weapon states would seek to facilitate that without running against the obligations that non-nuclear weapon states had not to develop nuclear weapon systems. That is the bargain and it is one that, on the whole, has worked. The three countries which have nuclear weapon systems, India, Pakistan and Israel, are not signatories to the NPT. In respect of all three of them, we wish them to become members of the NPT. As far as Israel is concerned, what we also want to see is a nuclear free Middle East. We are making progress on that. There were a few years ago four states who, it was thought, had nuclear weapons capabilities at various stages of advancement: Libya, Iraq, Iran and Israel. Two of those have gone, Iraq following the Gulf War and Libya as a direct result of US and UK secret diplomacy. People forget this but it was not a coincidence that we had indications of earnest intentions from the Libyans that they wished to negotiate with us on 18 March 2003, having had a series of shadow negotiations before that. We were able to conclude those negotiations on 19 December 2003. They have abandoned their nuclear weapons programme, which was more advanced than we had thought, lock, stock and barrel. You have Iran which I have dealt with and you have Israel. It is for Israel to defend its decisions, not for me, but Israel is the only state in the world whose very existence is aggressively denied by some of its neighbours. Gradually some of the Arab states are coming round and recognising they have to co-exist with Israel but Iran does not and we all know what President Ahmadinejad said of Israel, that it should be wiped off the face of the map. I look forward to a situation where Iran's relations with the rest of the world are normalised. We are satisfied through objective guarantees that Iran has no nuclear weapons capability or intentions and Iran recognises Israel's right to exist and to exist in peace and security. When we get there, all of us can exert the strongest possible pressure on Israel not to continue with a nuclear weapon system, but we have to get there first.

Q64 Sir John Stanley: From what we read, the Americans appear to be going down the policy route of saying that the Iranians may be able to have enrichment provided the enrichment is carried out by the Russians. Does the British Government support that policy and, if so, could you explain why?

Mr Straw: You would have to ask the American Government their position. From recollection, I do not think that is a full statement of their position. We have supported ideas such as the Russian proposal for a joint venture in uranium enrichment outside Iran. It goes without saying that if countries have a right to run a nuclear power plant obviously they have to have fuel to run it. The issue here in respect of Iran is not whether they have fuel but who produces the fuel and with what safeguards. We are very benign towards the Russian proposal and believe that such ideas could be important elements in any solution. What I do not want to do is get involved in detailed negotiations about, "If the Iranians say this, will you say that?" because that is not the way to conduct a negotiation, but I think we are all clear about the overall objective.

Q65 Mr Purchase: I was interested in the defence of Israel in possessing nuclear weapons, that they were threatened with their own existence as it were. That, I assume, is a general principle and may be adopted by the Ethiopians or the Eritreans?

Mr Straw: It is for them to defend it. I am just offering that if you talk to the Israelis that is the explanation they will give. I offer that as an explanation of the position. Everybody in the Middle East understands that full well. We have no interest in seeing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Q66 Chairman: We have a number of questions relating to the future of the European Union. We are supposed to be in a period of reflection. Can you tell us what has been achieved in this period of reflection?

Mr Straw: The period of reflection was a term of art developed after the difficulties which the European Union ran into in respect of the ratification of the EU treaties. Part of that period of reflection has led to an almost unspoken consensus that the European Union Constitutional Treaty is not going to run for a long period, so it has been put on the back burner, but there is other work going on about trying to steer the European Union in the right direction in practical terms. Part of the purpose of the Hampton Court summit which took place at the end of October was to do that. It is perfectly obvious that there was a decreasing appetite for major constitutional change inside the European Union. What we need to do is to concentrate on delivering tangible changes through those real benefits to our citizens. I also happen to think, by the way, there are some modest changes in the governance of the European Union which we will need to agree, but some of this might be able to be agreed without big treaty changes.

Q67 Chairman: Some aspects of the Constitution will go ahead, even though it was rejected?

Mr Straw: Not necessarily, but things like how the presidencies are run, which do not require constitutional change, do require changes agreed by the Council. Some may require treaty changes. We will have to wait and see what the appetite is for that.

Q68 Chairman: There have been a number of changes in governments recently. How do you see the German Government's position changing as a result of Chancellor Merkel?

Mr Straw: In respect of what?

Q69 Chairman: Their attitude to the European Union.

Mr Straw: There is a very wide consensus in Germany towards the European Union. After all, Germany was one of the founder members and sees its security and prosperity inextricably linked to membership of the European Union. That will not change. They were strong supporters of the Constitutional Treaty. You now have a grand coalition led by a Christian Democrat Chancellor but with many of the senior members of the Cabinet drawn from the Social Democrats. That is obviously going to change the mix.

Q70 Chairman: What about Poland? Do you have any view about the new Polish Government?

Mr Straw: It is our job to relate to whichever government is in power so I tend not to offer views about governments publicly. I think it would be very unwise to do so. The great thing about members of the European Union is that they are all democracies. It is for their electorates to elect governments, for us to respect that choice and to relate to those elected governments.

Q71 Richard Younger-Ross: There are two countries which are due to join the EU in just over a year's time, Romania and Bulgaria. The European Scrutiny Committee visited Bulgaria last week as well as Austria and Turkey. I will be very careful not to tread on their privileges over what was said on those visits. However, on visiting Bulgaria, it is very clear that there is still a lot to be done. The roads are very uneven and the houses are in poor condition. Do you believe that Bulgaria and Romania will make the grade by 2007?

Mr Straw: I think they will. I think they understand the importance of making very significant progress over the next 13 months and their governments understand that, but it is up to them. If they do not, it would be sad because their membership would be delayed. There was a brief exchange about this yesterday between the Commission and members of the Council. Commissioner Olli Rehn, who is the Commissioner for enlargement, is very clear about the need for the Commission to be objective in its analysis about progress. It is because of the rigour of Commissioner Rehn and his colleagues that we have had the reports which have said, "Hang on, progress is not going as quickly as it should" and if they feel it necessary they will produce further reports.

Q72 Richard Younger-Ross: If they fail for 1 January 2007, it is automatic that on 1 January 2008 they will join. They are obviously making strides and putting a lot of effort into complying at the moment. How would you keep that pressure up during 2007 if they do not make it by 1 January?

Mr Straw: The pressure on them will be very intense. I understand what you are saying about the default setting but I think it would still be open to the Council to say no if they thought something terrible had happened.

Mr Barrow: Although it would go forward in terms of 2008, there are transition periods, safeguards and other things which could be put in place. At the moment, there is a ratification process going forward with regard to the treaties with Bulgaria and Romania. That is still happening in this country and others, has not yet been completed and until that is completed and everybody has signed off on that it is still in doubt. I do not think that Bulgaria and Romania are feeling a diminution of pressure at the moment or up to the point when they accede.

Q73 Richard Younger-Ross: Moving on to Romania, Moldovans at the moment do not require a visa to travel, just a passport. They are looking for visa free travel into Romania after accession. Moldova is known as a centre for people smuggling. How will the EU restrict policing of the Romania's border with Moldova after accession?

Mr Barrow: The situation with regard to Moldova is exacerbated by the position of Transnica and the EU is already taking a greater role with regard to that issue through the special representative and through the newly published border mission on the Ukraine/Transnica border. With regard to visas, when Romania enters, it is my understanding that visa travel will change with regard to Moldovans, certainly with regard to Schengen accession. We have already seen that in the last wave of membership there have been changes in the relationship between some of the newly acceding states and their neighbours on visas and sometimes this can cause difficulties, but it is a consequence of joining that you have to take on board the acquis across the board. My understanding is that would include visas.

Q74 Richard Younger-Ross: Policing of that is crucial.

Mr Barrow: Yes. One of the areas in which there is work on capacity building and putting in place effective, modern systems is border management just like others use with regard to Romania.

Q75 Mr Purchase: I want to get to the principles of enlargement again and tie that in with our current thoughts and negotiations on budgets. Do the two things cause some difficulties, particularly in the messages that are going out to Bulgaria, Romania and other applicants?

Mr Straw: One of the reasons why there is pressure on the budget is because of enlargement. You call it difficulties; I call it consequences. We agreed with enlargement. We were in the vanguard for calling for enlargement, all parties. Enlargement has to be paid for. If we want these countries fully to transform and become full members of the European Union with good, liberal economies and stable societies, we need to help them invest in their countries and we need to do essentially in the accession ten countries, particularly the eight former Soviet countries, what the European Union has done very successfully, for example, in Spain, Portugal and Ireland. We have to spend a bit but we get much more back and I am sure you do not disagree.

Q76 Mr Purchase: I do not disagree but I wonder why we are making all the fuss now.

Mr Straw: There has never been any disagreement about this across the political divide either. The fact of enlargement is a pressure. There are some countries which are looking further down the track, not to the next financial perspective but the one after that and the one after that, to the possibility of Turkey coming into membership of the European Union, saying that unless we pin down every mechanism we will have to go slow on Turkey. That is certainly not our position.

Q77 Andrew Mackinlay: The French have indicated to you about Macedonia.

Mr Straw: There was discussion yesterday on Macedonia. The French Government's position was that they looked forward to the day when Macedonia was a member of the European Union but also said that they were not willing, as of yesterday, to ordain Macedonia as a candidate country. That is going to the European Council on Thursday but there may or may not be a decision there.

Q78 Mr Purchase: It surprises me that we are making such a fuss at the present time.

Mr Straw: Who is making a fuss?

Q79 Mr Purchase: We are.

Mr Straw: Who is "we"?

Q80 Mr Purchase: Britain.

Mr Straw: About?

Q81 Mr Purchase: About the budget negotiations and the consequences of enlargement. Surely we knew these things?

Mr Straw: We are not making a fuss but we are right to call for budgetary restraint. We did so in company with five other Member States. We want to see real investment in the infrastructures of the new accession ten countries. We also want to see reform, particularly of the Common Agricultural Policy and other wasteful policies. Our judgment is you can get the investment through structural and cohesion funds in the A10 and you can increase the pressure for reform within the budget in the ballpark of the one that we have set. If we had agreed to a very much higher budget we might have achieved the first objective but not the second. Moreover, since there is such an imbalance in the net position of otherwise similar countries inside the European Union, this would have increased costs to a relatively small number of Member States, including Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and ourselves.

Q82 Mr Horam: You are therefore saying that there is an increasing financial restraint on the speed of enlargement?

Mr Straw: No, I am not. I do not believe that to be the case. There are some who are saying that but it is not us at all. We have been in the vanguard of pushing for enlargement. I remember the Prime Minister making a speech in Warsaw in 2000, calling for a firm decision on enlargement in 2002 with a view to accession in 2004. Some people thought that he was being unrealistic but that was his position. It was the position of my predecessor, the late Robin Cook, and they were right about this and rather visionary. With luck, we will see the same happening in respect of the other states in the Western Balkans and with Turkey. All of us in Europe have a big, strategic choice: do we want these countries in the Western Balkans with their chequered and violent past? Do we separately want Turkey in its strategic position to come towards Europe or to go away from it?

Q83 Richard Younger-Ross: One of the successes which I am sure the government is planning for its presidency will be progress on Turkey. There is a long way to go and a lot of questions but the Turks are singing Britain's praises for all we have done to support them. However, there are two key issues -- one is Cyprus and one is human rights -- which need to be resolved. On the first one, are you able to say what progress has been made under the UK presidency towards resolution of the Cyprus problem?

Mr Straw: On Cyprus, what I did with colleagues was to ensure that there was a satisfactory outcome in respect of the negotiations for a start to be set of 3 October for Turkey to join. I regard that as one of the best things we have done in our presidency. It took a huge amount of effort but we got there in the small hours of 4 October. One of the things I said to our Cypriot colleagues was that, if they ever wanted there to be a united Cyprus, they had to make it possible for Turkey to come into the European Union because unless they did so the island of Cyprus would remain divided and Turkey would carry on with some thousands of troops on the island and there would be no resolution of the disputes and so on. The Republic of Cyprus representing these days the Greek Cypriot community understood that, although it is quite hard for them because they meanwhile have some arguments with the Turkish Cypriots and with Turkey. The Republic of Greece however had a clearer strategic sense about this all the way through. That is the first thing we have been doing for the resolution of the Cyprus issue. The progress in terms of meeting the requirements of Security Council resolution 1250 and others which set in train the good offices of the Secretary General otherwise has been limited in the last six months. Instead, the situation has become bogged down on some other dossier, particularly on the aid and trade regulations. I am very anxious to see progress resume but it is not going to happen before Christmas.

Q84 Richard Younger-Ross: There are cases like Orhan Pamuk who is being tried for being insulting to Turkishness because he stated that Turkey had in the past happened to kill a few Kurds and a few Armenians. We would probably take that as a statement of fact but the Turks have not. The EU Commission believes that if the laws governing this are interpreted so strictly at the moment then those laws need to be revised. The Turkish justification is to say that in the UK or in other parts of Europe they have equally restrictive laws. Do you see a way of going forward, helping Turkey through that process of reviewing its regulation on human rights, being aware that they think we are setting the hurdles higher for them than anyone else?

Mr Straw: Yes. They have to meet clear human rights standards and they understand that. I think they also understand that the prosecution of people like Orhan Pamuk has been very embarrassing, to put it at its least. I understand that Abdul Agu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, said publicly that he expects the courts to clear Mr Pamuk. Mr Pamuk has also said that he does not want his case to be used as a reason to delay the progress on Turkey's accession. As you have said, the Commission said that if the Turkish penal code continues to be interpreted in a restrictive manner it may need to be amended in order to safeguard freedom of expression in Turkey. I think that will be true but this is a situation which can evolve over time. In the four and a half years that I have been doing this job, Turkey has changed dramatically in terms of its human rights record and much else besides. Even four and a half years ago it was a country where it would be hard to say that it was fully democratic. It has made a lot of progress since then. It is interesting in my view that although the party of government, the AKP, is a secular party it is the one which gives the greatest respect to Islam of all the mainstream political parties in Turkey.

Q85 Chairman: Can I take you to an issue which was quite controversial a few months ago, before the British presidency? It seems to have gone very quiet. It is the question about relations with China in regard to the lifting of the EU arms embargo. Could you update us on whether there are plans to revisit that?

Mr Straw: It has gone quiet because there is not a lot to report on it. It is raised by the Chinese Government and in various bilateral and multilateral fora. There is at the moment no consensus for lifting the embargo. We have also collectively in the European Union explained to our Chinese colleagues that although they resist the notion of a linkage between the arms embargo and human rights -- I understand why they say that -- at the same time there is in people's minds a linkage of these two. In national parliaments and the European Parliament it is there and if they were to make moves towards ratifying various international instruments which they have signed or said they have approved and make other moves, that would maybe ease the overall political environment in which there could be discussion about the lifting of the arms embargo.

Q86 Chairman: We visited Israel, Gaza and the West Bank two weeks ago and we saw the very positive work being done by the carabinieri and Danish and Romanian people with them in Rafah. Those of us who went to Rafah were very impressed by the way that was being dealt with. The people there were of extremely high quality. There have however been some suggestions of difficulty since then with regard to the reaction of the Israelis to what has been going on at that crossing point. How do you see the EU's assessment of what has been going on? In the context of the discussion within the European Union Council about what has been going on with regard to Israel and the Palestinians, could you give us a brief assessment of how you see this being taken forward?

Mr Straw: I had a meeting yesterday at the General Affairs Council with Javier Solana and Benito Ferraro-Warner and Mark Ott, who is our EU representative in that area. They were positive about progress at Rafah. There was a bit of a frisson with the government of Israel over the possible publication of a draft paper about East Jerusalem but there was no consensus in favour of its publication yesterday so it has not been published.

Q87 Chairman: Having played a big role in its writing, we are keen to have it published, are we?

Mr Straw: There was much to be said on all sides on the matter but without a consensus it could not be published.

Q88 Sir John Stanley: The whole party went at one point to the West Bank and Ken Purchase and myself spent a further whole day on the West Bank. You will see our views in the debate we had in Westminster Hall last week, of extreme depression as to the ever growing extent to which fundamental rights of Palestinians are being violated on a daily basis. We all totally understand the security dimension and we totally respect and support Israel's right to take proper measures within its own boundaries to protect its people. Given the ever growing degree of chronic and in some cases catastrophic disruption of the ordinary daily lives of Palestinians, is the British Government going to do anything with its EU partners to not merely remonstrate but take some specific action to ensure that the Israeli Government gives a higher priority to allowing the Palestinians to emerge as a viable state, which is our policy, and also to reduce the degree of chronic, catastrophic disruption of the every day lives of Palestinians?

Mr Straw: Yes, and we have made very positive progress on this. I know the situation is terrible in many parts of the West Bank. I have seen it myself. It is also terrible for many Israelis because of the gratuitous terrorism which they have suffered. It is the terrorism, I am afraid, which is the mother and father of the fear, deprivation and everything else which is suffered by the Palestinians and by the Israelis. What have we done? What we have done -- and this is a dramatic change in terms of the position of the European Union, even in the space of a year -- is, alongside the United States almost as equal partners, we have helped to facilitate the beginnings of the transformation of Gaza from being an occupied territory, occupied by Israel, to being what amounted almost to a prison, now to opening its borders with Egypt through Rafah and more and more with Israel and then building up its economy. The ties into the Wolfeson plan. That change is extraordinary. I have always believed that you have to start somewhere with this vision of a separate and viable state of Palestine. You have to give the Palestinians the opportunity to prove that they can run part of their state and give them the support to do so. That is exactly what we are doing and, bit by bit, I think it is moving forward. We have the Palestinian council elections taking place in January. We are very anxious that they should operate properly and that there should be freedom of movement for candidates, particularly on the West Bank. That is very important and we are working on that. We are also anxious to ensure that East Jerusalem is not cut off from the rest of the West Bank which is why we have all made such strong representations about the possibility of the Israelis building on the E1 area. You shake your head, Sir John.

Q89 Sir John Stanley: I am shaking my head because East Jerusalem is being cut off totally.

Mr Straw: We have to work with what we have. Everybody knows the history there but, compared to the way in which things were going during the arms intifada when Chairman Arafat was in control, things are now moving forward from a low base, I accept, but none of us would have wished to have started from where we are. That is where we are and with Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, and Ariel Sharon who has surprised us all with both his determination and his courage, there are grounds for hope. Maybe this is a moment of seasonal sentiment on which to finish.

Q90 Mr Illsley: Is there any progress on the Bulgarian nurses imprisoned in Libya?

Mr Straw: Not a lot. I will write to you.

Chairman: Thank you for coming. We will see you next year and good luck in the negotiations.